The Mill Valley teenage drummer sits with Pearl Jam at the Oakland Arena show

Teenage drummer Kai Neukermans had already counted out the beat for many songs, his drumsticks leading to ferocious covers of bands such as Black Sabbath and Queens of the Stone Age.

But this time it wasn’t his younger brother and friend on guitar, bass and mic. Sitting on drums, the 18-year-old from Mill Valley watched none other than Eddie Vedder and the rest of popular grunge band Pearl Jam. Plus a crowd of fans in the nearly 20,000-seat Oakland Arena.

“Everyone is Kai; Kai is everyone! leader Vedder shouted to the cheering crowd.

Four beats of Neukermans, and it was gone. He had led them in an explosive rendition of “Mind Your Manners” from the band’s 2013 album “Lightning Bolt.” Vedder leaned over and shouted into the mic, drank a bottle of red wine and lifted the fist while the audience sang.

Neukermans had failed a statistics test to get to this moment.

Step back some 24 hours to witness the series of unlikely events that led this high school student from Tamalpais to share the Friday night stage with one of Seattle’s grunge movement’s most steadfast bands.

Neukermans is not just any teenage drummer; he’s one-third of teen rock band, The Alive, a band “started between surf and skate sessions in 2018,” as their web bio explains. They have performed on major stages, from BottleRock Napa Valley main stage to Lollapalooza Chile and Boardmasters in England. His 14-year-old brother, Manoa Neukermans, plays bass, and their friend Bastian Evans, 17, of Laguna Beach, Orange County, handles guitar and vocals.

Neukermans and his brother had just seen Pearl Jam perform in Los Angeles – the band was in town for a recording session. During Pearl Jam’s first gig in Oakland on Thursday, Neukermans and his family started receiving text messages from friends who were watching the band play. Pearl Jam drummer Matt Cameron was not playing because he tested positive for coronavirus.

They pressed him to come forward as a replacement for the Friday night show.

“It was a last minute thing, and I didn’t think it was going to work,” Neukermans said.

But he gave it a shot.

Neukermans had met Vedder’s daughter, Olivia Vedder, in 2018 at the Ohana Fest, founded by her surfer-loving father and held on Dana Point Beach in Orange County. So Neukermans texted him. She answered that evening and said she would ask.

Friday morning, Neukermans went to school. Around noon, he heard they wanted to see a video of him playing the drums.

Neukermans left school before his final two periods – courtesy of his parents, Stefaan and Alexandre Neukermans – and went to Green Room Music in Pacifica. He put “Mind Your Manners” on loop in a rehearsal room and started playing drums. Again and again and again.

Neukermans’ band The Alive are heavily influenced by the heavy sound of Seattle grunge. He loves the classic set-up of drums, bass and guitar, and says “music in today’s world is collapsing” due to an over-reliance on electronic sounds.

“I really like the energy, and it pumps me up every time I listen to it,” Neukermans said. “And I want others to be passionate about this music.”

He sent Olivia Vedder a video of him performing on the track. Within an hour he was in contact with a coach who told him to come to the stadium. Pearl Jam had hired longtime collaborators Josh Klinghoffer, formerly of the Red Hot Chili Peppers, and Oakland musician Richard Stuverud to replace Cameron for most of the night. Neukermans would play a song midway through the first set.

He arrived at the stadium around 6 p.m., took a coronavirus test and went to rehearse with Pearl Jam.

He was struck by their skill but above all by their joy. “They were having so much fun,” he said.

Neukermans said his heart skipped a beat when Vedder introduced him to the crowd and said he had seen the Alive play and was in awe of “how well they can play”.

Vedder told Neukermans to get comfortable. The curly-haired teenager wearing a Rage Against the Machine t-shirt approached the stage and sat down behind an orange Ludwig Vistalite drum kit.

“You lead the band bro,” Vedder said.

And he did.

Julie Johnson (her) is a staff writer for the San Francisco Chronicle. Email: [email protected]: @juliejohnson